Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Long-term care insurance: Is it right for you?

Kaiser Health News and the Washington Post have an article today on the pros and cons of long term care insurance. From the article:
The question of whether to get long-term care insurance bedevils consumers and their advisers. Unlike medical insurance, it is intended primarily to cover people who need assistance with so-called activities of daily living -- for example, the care of a dementia patient or someone recovering from a broken hip. It can be expensive: Premiums range from $1,000 to $5,000 a year, depending on the age, sex and health of the purchaser as well as the extent of the coverage. And policy details can be confusing.
Even advocates acknowledge that it isn't for everyone. Jesse Slome, executive director of the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, an industry group, sums it up well: "Long-term care is a universal issue facing all Americans who are getting older. But long-term-care insurance is not a universal solution."
Many people think that their health insurance will cover long term care, but most don't. Nor do Medicare or Medicare supplemental policies. Medicaid will pay, but to qualify for Medicaid, your assets must dwindle away to almost nothing.

In recent years, we've received numerous complaints about the cost of the policies. Long term care insurance is a fairly new product, with many companies not offering it until the early 1990s. As a result, they had little experience to base their prices on, and early policies were priced significantly lower than they should have been, based on how the cost of claims and the fact that -- unlike life insurance, for example -- few people cancel the policies.

As a result, most long-term care insurers have bumped up their premiums sharply in the past few years -- in some cases 40 percent or more -- angering customers who signed up for policies at relatively low cost years ago. This is a problem across the country. Again, from the article:
"It's probably the most frequent complaint I hear," says (Kansas Insurance Commissioner Sandy) Praeger, who heads the National Association of Insurance Commissioners' health and managed care committee. "The problem is, the older policies weren't priced right to begin with. Companies expected about 8 percent of customers to stop paying their premiums, when, in fact the lapse rate is closer to 2 percent." That meant the insurers had to cover more beneficiaries than they expected at a time when the economic downturn has meant less returnon their investments.

Praeger acknowledges that rate increase requests have posed a dilemma for insurance commissioners. "If we don't give them the rate increase they need, the insurance carriers could become financially impaired, and that doesn't help people," she says. In fact, in recent years, a number of companies have stopped selling policies. As a result, she adds, it's hard to turn the increases down.

Insurer fined $100,000

A company that issued thousands of medical insurance policies to college students has been fined $100,000 for charging unapproved rates, as well as other violations.

Indiana-based Unicare Life and Health Insurance Co. has agreed to pay the fine.

Between mid-2004 and mid-2009, Unicare sold thousands of medical insurance policies to students at community colleges, technical schools, colleges and universities across Washington state. Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler’s office later determined that there were substantial problems with the coverage. Among them:

• For more than six years, the company used unapproved methods to set its rates.

• Unicare continued to wrongly cite a policy exclusion for 5 years after the law had changed to ban insurers from using the exclusion.

• Unicare allowed unlicensed insurance agents to market and sell the policies. The primary company marketing the policies was not licensed to do business in Washington until June 2009. At that point, it had been selling the policies for four years.

The company was unable to respond to Kreidler’s requests for supporting documentation on rates at specific colleges, saying that the documents were prepared by employees who no longer worked there.

Fines collected by the insurance commissioner’s office do not go to the agency. The money is deposited in the state’s general fund to pay for other state services.

The policies included international students at the University of Washington, Washington State University, Bellevue Community College, Seattle Pacific University, Shoreline Community College, Tacoma Community College and South Puget Sound Community College, among others.